The government of Kalamazoo County, Michigan is literally stealing a mother’s house that she owns free and clear.
Deborah Calley paid $164,000 in cash for her dream home in 2010. She didn’t take out a mortgage or borrow money. She paid for it upfront, which means she owns it. There is no dispute over it.
But now the county has foreclosed on her home and is selling it at auction. Why? Because she missed a single tax payment of less than $2000 in 2011 because the notices were addressed and mailed to banks Calley is unaffiliated with.
Calley’s attorney, Ven Johnson, says the process to foreclosure was not properly handled. He said part of the statute is to send certified mail, adding that only one of ten notifications went to Calley’s address. That notice was returned to sender.
“The county admitted in this case, under oath I might add, that the certified mail that was sent to Deb’s house came back,” Johnson said. “In other words, she never accepted it. So, that means that the county knows it wasn’t successful. I know for a fact that it went back to this company called Title Check because I have a receipt from the person at Title Check who signed it at their address in Kalamazoo.”
That’s not the only discrepancy, according to Johnson. A signed affidavit shows county treasurer Mary Balkema and deputy treasurer Greg Vlietstra visited her home and personally delivered notice of foreclosure. However in a video of a hearing into the case, Vlietstra is asked who he handed that letter to, and he admits he met Calley for the first time in his office after that delivery was supposedly made.
Records show Calley made two payments in 2011, which is the standard method used in Michigan which bills a summer and a winter payment separately, but because she lived in the Village of Richland, she also owed a third payment to them, which is the one she missed.
Still, the county attorney said the process to notify Calley met standards set by state law. When Thom Canny, corporate counsel for Kalamazoo County was asked if the safe guards to notify people of foreclosure were error-proof he said, “I would say they’re never 100 percent and if somebody raises a question we look at it.” But Canny went on to say it’s too late and that the case is out of his hands.
“In this case we followed the statute and pursuing foreclosure is appropriate,” Canny said.
Calley says that when she paid her taxes in 2012, nobody mentioned anything about the missing tax payment from a year earlier.
“When I paid the taxes in 2012 right there in Richland, no one said, ‘Oh, well you still owe money for 2011, so, I didn’t really have a clue. I thought I was right on time.”
Calley not only had no clue that she had missed a payment because the county screwed up the whole mailing process, she also had a good reason to have forgotten in the first place because she suffered a head injury in a car accident that left bruises on her brain. To recover comfortably and make raising her two kids simpler, Calley bought the house she always wanted. But her brain injury may have caused her to accidentally miss a payment, a payment that the county failed time and time again to notify her about.
When the county swooped in and kicked Calley and her kids out of their own home, she offered to pay the missing payment in full along with penalties and interest. But the greedy county only saw bigger dollar signs and decided to auction off the house instead of making up for their own inability to properly address a piece of mail. Needless to say, Calley is torn up about the whole situation.
To add insult to injury, the county intends to keep all the profit from selling the home. Calley doesn’t get a dime of it even though she’s the one who paid for the house in full and is the rightful owner. Thus far, the highest bid is $80,000, far more money than the county would make if they just let Calley make the missed payment.
If she loses her home, Calley will lose the only thing she owns and the government would be putting her future and the future of her children in jeopardy.
She’ll pay it today if they’ll let her, but the government would rather take her home, the only thing that she has that she owns that’s paid off free and clear. That is her future and her retirement and her kids’ future. She will lose it to the government unless a judge has mercy, but so far that doesn’t seem likely.